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Zhou Xingshi | Soul Indigo

Batik as mother tongue for the Miao

Zhou Xingshi is from a small farming village in Huishui County, Guizhou, home to the Buyi people. Deeply influenced by the Buyi traditional handcrafts of her family, Zhou was the first person in her family to graduate high school, going on to earn a B.A. in Tourism Product Design. In 2014, she began interning at the Community-Based Conservation and Development Research Center, where she assisted with design workshops for village-based artisans and cooperatives, before joining its partner social enterprise, Soul Indigo (formally known as the Blue Flower Project.) Soul Indigo works with Miao and other indigenous women in rural communities in Guizhou to promote community development, economic empowerment, environmental sustainability, and cultural heritage protection.

Drawing batik, weaving fabric, and making natural indigo dye have been passed from mother to daughter for generations. Because the Miao have no written language, batik is among the most important mediums for recording the history and folklore of the Miao people. All of the motifs that appear on Miao batik are based on folklore regarding the origins of life, the Miao migration journey, and agricultural practices. Whether home textiles, clothing, bags, or jewelry, all of the items are made entirely by women in their home villages. The majority of products use the exact same wax-resist, loom weaving, and natural dye techniques that have been passed down for hundreds of years among Guizhou’s Miao and Buyi people.

Soul Indigo is committed to making these traditional crafts viable income options for indigenous women by organizing trainings, collaborative workshops, and exhibitions. Zhou won an innovation award at the 2019 Guizhou Women’s Federation Handcraft Competition for her work with Soul Indigo. She hopes that her presence at IFAM “can support the bearers of these traditions and share their stories with the world.”